Aspects of Federalism in USA

More than 200 years of development of original American federalism has led to a very curious situation. In the 50 states, which, in accordance with the US Constitution, have their own broad rights and powers that do not contradict federal law, local laws vary greatly. It is necessary to consider in more detail the federal structure of the United States, as well as its impact on society and the division of power between the states.

From state to state in America, not only the concepts of crimes differ, but the criteria for evaluation, as well as punishment. In addition, the rules for buying and drinking alcohol, the conditions for acquiring and carrying weapons, and even voting in elections differ, not to mention hundreds of other differences in individual state laws, including even rules governing marriage and divorce (Janda et al., 2018). In Las Vegas, for example, individual can officially register a relationship without leaving car (Banks, 2018). The most telling illustration of “legislative freemen” in America is the use of the death penalty. Capital punishment in the United States is applied in 34 states. Moreover, in different territories it is allowed to use different methods to carry out the sentence: from lethal injection to execution, the electric chair, the gallows and the gas chamber.

Speaking about cars in the most motorized country in the world, it is curious to note that in 13 US states there is no concept of a technical inspection of a car in principle. At the same time, in most of the rest, MOT, which takes from 5 minutes to 1 hour, is even called differently: from “inspection” to “smoke certificate” (Janda et al., 2018). Of the curious examples, one can note the attitude of the police of various states towards tipsy citizens (Banks, 2018). Thus, the authorities of the state of Indiana severely punish drunkards who violate public peace, they face a fine of up to $ 1,000 and up to 180 days in prison (Banks, 2018, p. 67). Police officers in Georgia are guided by regulations that require the arrest of drunk people who behave indecently, vulgarly and loudly. At the same time, in the state of Missouri, for example, a law regulating the drinking of alcohol in public places does not exist in principle. Montana and Nevada also believe that being drunk in public is not a crime, although law enforcement officers are advised to escort “breasted” home and ensure that they do not pose a threat to themselves or others.

The Commerce Clause describes the enriched power listed in the United States Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3). Clouse states that the United States Congress has the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations and between several states, and with Indian tribes.” Courts and commentators tend to discuss each of these three areas of commerce as a separate power vested in Congress. It is well known that the individual components of the Commerce Clause are referred to in specific terms: Foreign Commerce Clause, Interstate Commerce Clause and Indian Commerce Clause (Banks, 2018). There is dispute in the courts as to the scope of powers granted to Congress by the Trade Clause. As noted below, it is often combined with the Necessary and Right Clause, and the combination used to give a broader and broader view of these forces (Janda et al., 2018). However, the effect of the Commerce Clause has varied considerably depending on the interpretation by the US Supreme Court.

During the era of the Marshall Court, Clause’s interpretation of commerce gave Congressional jurisdiction over numerous aspects of intrastate and interstate commerce, as well as activities that were considered non-commerce. Beginning in 1937, after the end of Loera, the use of the “Commerce Clause” by Congress to authorize federal control over economic matters became effectively outstanding (Banks, 2018). Since United States v. Lopez (1995), the use of the “Commerce Clause” in Congress has become somewhat more limited because of issues of commerce or some other form of domain (whether interstate or not) and manufacturing (commercial or not).

Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that the federal system and the separation of powers also have their drawbacks, caused by disagreements in the area under consideration. First of all, differences in legislation lead to a kind of experimentation with the law, which results in an unauthorized new interpretation of any norms. Also under such experiments can be considered attempts at non-standard use of norms and rules, which are common only in a number of states (Janda et al., 2018). Taken together, it should be noted that this leads not only to arbitrariness, but also to the victims of such experiments, namely, to people who were held accountable incorrectly. Finally, this significantly complicates the life of citizens, whose understanding of the law begins to blur and take on a free form (Banks, 2018). In other words, people who do not have special knowledge may not understand how the rules work and what exactly their violation can lead to. In addition, a clear definition and criteria for the violation itself is blurred, as justice differs from state to state.

This is seen as the main problem and shortcoming of federalism, which leads to flexible laws that vary in their rigidity and applicability depending on the region. In addition, it is much more difficult for the state apparatus to control such a volatile system, which potentially affects the level of distrust of the population in the courts (Banks, 2018). Finally, for the same article, several precedents can be created at once, which are the results of experiments, which reduces the chance of a fair decision in a particular case.

Nevertheless, the federal structure has a positive effect on the life of the population, since it allows to satisfy the needs of each individual state, regardless of the others. The most striking example is the legalization of marijuana in several regions where the demand and need for this right is high. At the same time, there is no need to introduce this permit in the outlying states; accordingly, the satisfaction of the absolute majority of citizens arises. In addition, the population has the opportunity to influence the local authorities, which participate in the everyday life of the Indians even more than the government (Banks, 2018). Thus, federalism ensures the comfortable coexistence of a diverse society in one state, satisfying the needs of various social groups.

It is necessary to consider the relationship between the Great Depression and the expansion of federal communications in the United States. The fact is that the banking system of the state was put under attack and the risks of extremely crisis situations increased. In this case, local governments could not cope with the entire financial system, since this area is global and concerns the entire state as a whole (Janda et al., 2018). Accordingly, in order to control and reform economic changes, it was the government that had to deal with the restoration of the country’s economy (Banks, 2018). That is why it was necessary for the state to expand its powers, because the scale of the problems is significantly different from others. Thus, there are areas, such as economics, that can only be controlled and regulated by the government, and not by individual states.


Banks, B. P. (Ed.). (2018). Controversies in American federalism and public policy. Routledge.

Janda, K., Berry, J. M., Goldman, J., Deborah, D. & Manna, P. (2018). The challenge of democracy: American government in global politics. Cengage Learning.

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